Staff Correspondent, NewAge, July 24, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh
The interim government is going to form the ‘controversial’ Truth and Accountability Commission to let people voluntarily admit their corruption, submit their ill-gotten wealth to the exchequer and seek mercy within ten days.
‘The commission will be formed within seven to 10 days…It will begin functioning immediately after its birth,’ law adviser AF Hassan Ariff told reporters at the secretariat on Wednesday.
A retired judge of the High Court Division, Justice Habibur Rahman Khan, may be appointed chairman of the commission, said sources.
The law adviser, however, refused to give details of the persons to be included in the commission.
On May 25 the council of advisers at a meeting approved the proposal for setting up a body called ‘Truth and Accountability Commission’ under the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance 2008 to deal with corruption.
Politicians have termed the move a ‘travesty of justice’, saying it proves that the government has bowed its head to high-profile corruption suspects. But the government defends the decision and says that it wants to eradicate corruption.
Besides launching the anti-graft drive, targeting mainly the politicians, the government has been considering formation of the commission, hoping that many people with ill-gotten wealth will confess to their crimes to take the advantage of the provision that they will not be punished.
According to the ordinance, the commission will exist for only five months but the proceedings it initiates during its tenure will continue until disposal of the cases, said one of the framers of the ordinance.
The proposed commission will be composed of a chairman, preferably a retired judge of the Supreme Court, and the two other members will be selected from persons not below the status of a retired major general of the armed forces or a retired secretary to the government, or someone who is widely acknowledged to be an eminent citizen.
Persons willing to voluntarily disclose their ill-gotten wealth will be exempted from prosecution and imprisonment, subject to surrendering the property or the corresponding amount of money to the state exchequer, according to the proposed law.
The person must apply to the commission for mercy in a prescribed form, giving details of his/her moveable and immovable properties and other information.
A person already charged with corruption, or convicted in a case, will not enjoy the benefit of the provision, according to the draft. The commission will have the authority to summon any persons believed or found to be involved in corruption on the basis of such disclosures. It will also have the authority to confiscate their ill-gotten wealth.
The commission will not generally sentence anyone after disclosure of his/her corruption to any prison term. But violation of the commission’s directives will constitute an offence punishable with imprisonment for a maximum period of five years.
Persons disclosing their corruption will be debarred from national or local elections, holding any public office or executive positions in any collective bargaining agencies, associations or banks or financial institutions for five years.
The ordinance makes a provision for giving information about others involved in corruption, and the commission can launch an investigation on the basis of the information.
The government launched a crackdown on serious crimes and corruption in February 2007 and detained more than 200 high-profile suspects, mostly politicians from the two major parties — the Awami and League Bangladesh Nationalist Party.